How Facebook killed the Christmas card
Is there any point to this holiday tradition, now that the social network gives us nonstop status updates, photo postings and online chats?
This was once the season that filled mailboxes with family photos and stories and email inboxes with greetings and party invitations. No more.
Thanks, Facebook (FB).
Time Magazine writer Nina Burleigh recently bemoaned the death of her family holiday photo card and admitted Facebook's role in its demise. Her hundreds of friends and relatives could see every photo and update instantly throughout the year and could catch whatever action they were missing on Shutterfly, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube and myriad other outlets of self expression, thus nullifying any posed photo or annual update she could send.
Her family's holiday story is now that of a generation, thanks largely to Facebook.
The social media site has little more than 1 billion users, just bought killer photo app Instagram this year, doesn't limit the number of photos you can host and can dish out invitations and notifications for events and track them on its calendar. That would be imposing under ordinary circumstances, but throw in an economic downturn that makes consumers leery of spending extra money or effort on anything and you have a holiday disaster in the making.
Family cards felt the pain almost immediately. According to Unity Marketing, the percentage of consumers buying Christmas cards fell from 77% in 2007 to 62% in 2009. That year, the Greeting Card Association industry group said greeting card companies sold 1.8 billion Christmas cards. By 2011, that card count had dropped to 1.5 billion. Companies like American Greetings and Hallmark Cards -- which account for half the card sales in the U.S. -- have put lights, voice recorders and online features into their cards to try to draw consumers interest. Even Internet-based companies have had to step up their efforts in recent years, with Shutterfly letting folks post a sneak-peek of their photo cards and albums to Facebook.
It doesn't help when your means of delivery is collapsing beneath you. This holiday season, the Postal Service expects to deliver 365 million packages -- up 20% from 2011. It's expected to send along nearly 18 billion cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. It's also a financial mess that reported a $15.9 billion loss for the last fiscal year. Of that, $5 billion came from a decline in mail revenue as volume decreased from more than 168 billion pieces of mail last year to fewer than 160 billion pieces this year.
If all of those updates and photos are shrinking the holiday mail pile, one look at the growing numbers next to Facebook's notification globe should provide some idea of where all that personal holiday e-mail went as well. If inboxes across America are a glut of online shopping notifications, receipts and little else this season, Facebook can take credit for that, too.
It's been six years since Facebook began allowing events and event invitations, but it must feel like a decade ago to most folks thinking of the last time they sent out an Evite. By the time Facebook events cropped up in 2006, Evite was already being slammed by Huffington Post as outdated. The next year, Time placed it on a list of the Internet's five worst websites. By the time Liberty Media (LMCA) bought Evite from Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp (IACI) in 2010, it was as much of an afterthought as a neglected Friendster profile.
For all the griping about Facebook, its privacy issues, its Zynga (ZNGA)-game based economy and how relatively quiet the whole network has become in the few years, it's eliminated a bunch of steps from the average online American's holiday season. That it's eliminated some business, services, traditions and personal contact in the process puts a bit of a damper on that efficient holiday cheer.
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The author of this article makes some fundamental errors in correlating the impact of Facebook with the alleged decline in greeting cards. First it would be necessary to establish that Facebook was the only variable to impact greeting card sales from 2007-2009 and therefore assume that the second largest recession in the history of this nation had no effect.
Secondly, USPS Household Diary studies reflect remarkable stability in greeting card volumes during this same period. While card volumes declined slightly due to the recession, other mail types such as bill payments declined precipitously.
The increasing ubiquity of Facebook and the fact that it requires the viewer to make the effort to connect makes the impact of receiving a card more special, not less. Indeed, Facebook users own jargon refers to a certain class of friends as "card-worthy." Facebook will not doom greeting cards any more than, e-mail or the telephone did. Indeed, all of the technical innovations that make routine communicating effortless, heighten the emotional impact of giving and receiving cards.
I still send out cards. I think I use about 40 stamps a year mostly for cards. I think our society is loosing a lot of personal interaction because of social media. Shouldn't it be called anti-social media? People text instead of call or just post things they want people to know on Facebook. I hate Facebook! I have real concerns over privacy. I don't care what you ate for lunch, I don't have time to help you feed your animals, if I didn't like you in high school why would I want to be friends now! There was a poll about Facebook's earlier this week on MSN. It had something to do with improved security or privacy. I was surprised to learn that 39% of the people who took part in the poll said they don't have a Facebook account. I hope becomes 100%!!!
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